Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)
This book provides a competent overview of recent and ongoing intra-state conflicts over territory in Myanmar, Mindanao, Southern Thailand, Sri Lanka, Kashmir, Northeast India, Tibet, Xinjiang and Indonesia (Aceh and East Timor). AS Bhalla discusses how the Indonesian government has been able to overcome its conflicts peacefully, while Sri Lanka has crushed its opponents in a humiliating military defeat, China used systematic repression to prevent its conflicts from escalating, and while internal armed struggles have been allowed to continue in Myanmar, the Philippines, Southern Thailand, Kashmir and Northeast India. The book includes some interesting comparisons. However, the explanations given for the various outcomes are somewhat ad hoc, sometimes emphasizing structural factors, sometimes government capacities and most often the strength or commitment of government, rebel and also foreign leaders. The book's emphasis on leadership is warranted. Government leaders carry huge responsibility for the various outcomes. Unfortunately, however, the author's theory of leadership is unsophisticated, with far too much emphasis on 'strength'. The author defines a 'strong leader' as one with legitimacy, accountability, political commitment, charisma and mass appeal, and assumes that such leaders achieve at the same time peace, conflict resolution, a decline in crime, economic growth and jobs/equity. Hence, the only strong leader to appear in Bhalla's comparative analysis is Indonesia's former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The book's comparative analyses could have been taken much further if the priorities of government leaders had been placed at its theoretical core. Leaders placing top priority on economic development who therefore see a need for social and political stability are more likely to achieve peace than leaders with self-serving, regime-preserving, nationalist, religious or ideological goals.